Black Panther and Colonialism

Confession: I am not a fan of the endless barrage of Marvel/Disney superhero movies. More specifically, I’ve always thought that the Avengers movies were a long, arduous CGI fest containing a few over-the-top political metaphors mixed in with all of the explosions. There is also the concern that Disney owns so much of the mainstream film/entertainment industry, including Marvel Studios, Lucas Films, and now 20th Century Fox, which gives them the rights to the X-men films.

With all of that said, I went to see Black Panther this weekend, especially after the stream of editorials that hailed it as a cultural moment. My initial response to the movie is that it very much felt like any other Marvel superhero movie, with lots of fighting and lots of CGI, especially  during the last 30 minutes/final battle. (Those rhinos!).

However, over the weekend, I kept thinking about the film, something I’ve never done with any other Marvel movie. I found myself starting to agree with some of the editorials, namely that director Ryan Coogler makes us seriously think about the effects of colonialism and what Africa could have been like without the slave trade and white, European conquerors.

The film is primarily set in the fictional country of Wakanda, an African nation that is technologically advanced, well beyond any first world country, but veils itself from the outside world and generally keeps outsiders at bay. Its true identity is threatened when Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), defeats the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and ascends to the throne. Unlike the rest of the nation, Killmonger wants to make Wakanda known to the rest of the world. More specifically, the Oakland-born villain wants to use Wankanda’s technology to arm the oppressed and encourage them to overthrow their rulers. Killmonger is the most nuanced Marvel villain I’ve ever seen on the screen, and his politics are not paper thin or simplistic. His views formed after watching his father get killed by the Black Panther’s father/King of Wakanda. Killmonger also questions why Wakanda keeps itself a secret when so many are suffering. He  says at one point to the Black Panther that anyone who descended from Africa are all one people and their struggle should be Wakanda’s struggle. It is also no mistake that he was born in the city that was the birthplace of the Black Panthers.

Unlike the Black Panther, however, Killmonger is quick to resort to violence and immediately kills a few of the kingdom’s female warriors and threatens violence against anyone who opposes him. However, by the film’s conclusion, the Black Panther and his  counsel, mostly women, and badass women at that, take some of what Killmonger has to say to heart, deciding to reach out to the rest of the world, including the Oakland neighborhood where Killmonger was raised and watched his father die. They are determined to open outreach centers and use Wakanda’s technology to help the suffering.

The Black Panther poses a lot of questions, first and foremost, what would Africa have been like without the oppression of colonial powers? There are a lot of reasons the film probably resonates with audiences, but it’s really the first time we’ve seen an African country on the big screen far, far more advanced than any other country. It also deals with issues of identity and what W.E.B. labeled as double-consciousness.

For a far more nuanced analysis of the way the film deals with colonialism and African history, check out Jelani Cobb’s article in The New Yorker.

 

 

 

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Netflix’s Worthy Horror Flick The Ritual

 

A Netflix horror flick released this month is catching a lot of buzz. The Ritual, a story about four friends who get lost on a hike in Sweden, has been much-hyped on horror social media pages. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill. For the most part, the film primarily centers around the first half of the book, when the friends encounter something ancient and menacing in the woods, which, for the most part, is unseen to the viewer. In that regard, the film uses some of the same tricks that The Blair Witch Project used- don’t show the monster. Instead, just show their reactions to twigs snapping and other creepy sounds. For a majority of the film, the monster is described only through their dialogue and leaves a lot to the imagination, which works. This allows the viewer to question whether or not they’re actually seeing and hearing something, or, is there something deeper going on. Is the monster a form of madness or grief manifested over the loss of their friend? This question is especially relevant when it comes to the protagonist, Luke (Rafe Spall), who watched their friend get killed by junkies in a convenient store. The hike is in honor of his memory. When the monster terrorizes the friends, Luke often has flashbacks of that moment when his friend was murdered and he failed to act, thus the monster is frequently associated with Luke’s grief.

The first half of the movie is generally suspenseful and has strong character build-up. The long-shots of the mountains and the woods create an eerie, moody atmosphere and makes the viewer feel like the setting is going to engulf the characters. The second half shifts the narrative somewhat when Luke encounters some locals who worship the monster. This half is not as strong, but it does not pull down the entire film.

Overall, The Ritual is a strong entry into the horror genre at the beginning of 2018. It is atmospheric, well-shot, and generally knows how to exercise some restraint regarding he use of a monster as a threat.

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Some Poetry News

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I wanted to share a quick update on the poetry front. I have a new review published over at 4squarereview on Ariel Francisco’s latest collection, All My Heroes Are Broke. I really like his work, and in the context of the immigration debates occurring in the U.S., his poetry feels especially powerful and resonant at this moment. Check out the review here. 

I also have three poems in the new anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America, out this month through NYQ Books. The collection includes work by Patricia Smith, Kaveh Akbar, Ariel Fransisco, Kyle Dargan, Gregory Parldo, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and dozens of others. Proceeds will be donated to the National Immigration Law Center. You can order a copy through several retailers. Click here for more info. There will be a launch in mid-March at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC.

 

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Joe Kennedy Avoided the SOTU Rebuttal Curse, but Let’s Calm the Presidential Chatter

Visit any progressive blog today or the social media platforms of your Democratic friends, and you’ll probably notice many of them gushing about Joe Kennedy III’s rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address last night. Kennedy largely avoided the SOTU curse that so many others have fallen into. Remember former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s rebuttal to Barack Obama? I don’t remember anything about the content, but I do remember his sweater and the number of times he was compared to Mr. Rogers. I also remember the excessive water sipping by Sen. Marco Rubio a few years ago.

Speaking at Fall River, MA, Rep. Kennedy was generally confident and poised. He also drew a sharp contrast between the United States depicted in Trump’s speech and the actual effects of some of his policies. Here are some lines from the speech that drew that stood out to me:

“Many have spent the last year angry, anxious, afraid… we see an economy that has made stocks soar, but failed workers.”

“This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, they’re targeting the very idea of the laws that protect us.”

“Turning American life into a zero sum game where for one to win, another must lose…. a long list of false choices — five up safety net for safety. Dreamers or poor kids. Coal miners or single moms. The answer that Democrats offer — we choose both. We fight for both. The greatest strongest nation in the world should not have to live anyone behind.” Support for child care, living wage, education, infrastructure, health care.”

In general, the speech was strong enough to appeal to the base and maybe some independents, too. This is especially important heading into the fall 2018 elections, when the Dems will have to get out their base, which traditionally stays home during mid-term elections.

If I have one main critique of the speech, it is this: what are the Democrats offering other than being anti-Trump? Kennedy didn’t pitch anything bold, such as universal health care or even something less risky like a higher federal minimum wage or paid maternity leave. All of these, including Medicare for all, generally poll quite well and they are part of the Democratic Party’s platform, but they were absent from that speech last night.

I do think 2018 will be a good year for the Democrats. Right now, the momentum is on their side. The base is fired up. They keep winning state-wide elections that they shouldn’t be winning, including in deep red states, and math and history is on their side to win back the House in November.

With that said, the Democratic Party needs to offer a clear platform and policy proposals when the 2020 race gets closer. I am not convinced that being anti-Trump is going to be enough. I’m also not convinced that a 30-something with the Kennedy name is enough to challenge Trump, who will go as low as he needs to to win re-election, if he even decides to run again.

Kennedy’s speech was good. It drew a sharp contrast between Trump’s words and the reality that some Americans are living in, Americans who still haven’t seen their wages rise, or DREAMERs who have been here since they were children and now fear deportation. Kennedy’s speech reached out to them, especially when he promised that the Dems would fight for DREAMERs. Lets hope so because the GOP won’t, at least not without insane immigration demands. However, I would like to see him serve a few more terms in the House and perhaps get bumped into a leadership position to raise his profile more before he’s seen on any type of presidential ticket.

 

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Get Out, the Oscars, and the Horror Genre

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Get Out has scored big in the 2018 Oscar race. The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Jordan Peele has been nominated for Best Director, and Daniel Kaluuya has been nominated for Lead Actor.

If Get Out wins Best Picture, it will be the only horror movie, other than 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, to do so. Recently, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not Get Out is a horror picture. From the get-go, I have stuck with the belief that Get Out is indeed a horror film. AMC’s FilmSite defines horror films as, “unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worse fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.”

The definition is pretty standard, and Get Out certainly fits into it, despite the fact that it was placed in the comedy category at the Golden Globes.   Peele was quoted in Newsweek as saying about comedy and horror, “They’re both about truth,” adding, “If you are not accessing something that feels true, you’re not doing it right…you have to be very tuned into the audience and their emotion.”

Get Out works so well as a horror film because it hits all of the right psychological notes, specifically pertaining to racism and white liberals’ compliance. In that regard, Get Out stands with some of the best horror films, the ones that are keenly aware of their audience and issues pertaining to their time periods.

I will be rooting for Get Out to snag some Oscars. I’ll also be rooting for The Shape of Water, a film that leads the Oscar race in nominations and borrows much from the Universal Monsters golden age.

 

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Two Movies for Our Time

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There are two films in theaters right now that are Oscar contenders and feel especially relevant. The first is The Post, which tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971, detailing the United States’ decades-long involvement in Vietnam, spanning multiple administrations. The second is I, Tonya, which, believe it or not, makes Tonya Harding a sympathetic character and uses the lens of class to do so.

The Post, directed by Steven Speilberg, comes at a time when the current president of the U.S. attacks the press day in, day out and labels stories that he doesn’t like as fake news. The most chilling parts of The Post occur when the film recreates parts of the Nixon tapes, including a line in which Nixon says he doesn’t want any Washington Post reporters in the White House. Tom Hanks does a fine job playing Post editor Ben Bradlee, and Meryl Streep gives a strong performance as Post publisher, Kay Graham. The film has drawn several comparisons to the 2015 film Spotlight, which tells the story of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse cover-up  and The Boston Globe’s coverage of it. In some ways, The Post feels like it was written specifically for the Trump era, and maybe it was. There is a chance that the film may not age as well as Spotlight, but regardless, The Post is an important reminder of why we need a free press.

The Post also resonates because of Kay Graham’s challenges of being a woman in a leadership position, unsure if The Post was even going to survive financially. Not only did she have to decide whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers, while the NYT was fighting the Nixon Administration in court, but she had to confront a board of all-male bankers, once The Post went public, who were eager to overrule her decisions, including the decision to publish the Papers.

I, Tonya is also a docudrama, but one that is more focused on issues of class. The film portrays Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in a sympathetic light. At least half of the movie centers around the relationship with her domineering, abusive mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janey), who, at one point, throws a knife at her daughter that sticks in her arm. Even in that scene, she doesn’t apologize. Golden is quick to remind Harding that she works so many hours  as a waitress to pay for figure skating.

The film offers the premise that the judges often disliked Harding and saw her as white trash, while they viewed Nancy Kerrigan as the all-American girl. At one point, Harding chases a judge down in his car in a garage and asks what exactly she can do to earn a fair score. Essentially, the judge tells her that she isn’t the type of girl they want representing the U.S. In another scene, Harding, dressed in a pink outfit that she sewed herself, blurts out to a panel of judges that she’ll never be able to afford a $5,000 figure skating outfit that’s more to their liking.

I, Tonya deconstructs and rewrites the media narrative that was created around Harding in the mid-90s, after Kerrigan’s leg was clubbed. The film focuses on the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan), while highlighting some of the class barriers she had to overcome. Like The Post, I, Tonya feels especially relevant in 2018.

 

 

 

 

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Quick Poetry Update

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in the new year, I would be writing poetry book reviews for 4squarereview.com and more essays for the Schuylkill Valley Journal. My first review for 4squarereview, on Aaron Coleman’s forthcoming book, Threat Comes Close, was published last week. You can read it here.  I also have an essay on Robert Bly and environmentalism in the new online edition of SVJ. This essay was a multi-month project, so I hope anyone interested in poetry or environmentalism takes the time to check it out. You can read it here.

This summer, I’ll be working on a new poetry manuscript, though I  feel no rush to publish it. I am merely going to start the process of ordering the poems. At least one section of the book will contain poems written in response to horror films. Three of those poems were published in the November issue of The Horror Zine and one was published in the debut issue of Rockvale Review. Check them out!

Aside from blogging about film, horror, and literature, I’ll still post poetry updates on here now and then.

 

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